Now that President Biden has committed to increasing refugee admissions “beyond Obama-era levels,” there is an enhanced anticipation that Buffalo will be able to restore its successful refugee programs. New York State Senator Sean Ryan recently voiced his support to kick the United Nations refugee resettlement program back into gear, which would pave a road for this city to get back to business at hand.
“There is no doubt that we face immense challenges in the months and years ahead,” said Ryan. “President Biden has pledged to get the pandemic under control and effectively manage the distribution of a vaccine that will end this crisis once and for all. As plans to end the pandemic and boost the economy take shape, we must also look toward important ways in which our nation can continue to heal after a Trump presidency which saw the most divisive rhetoric aimed squarely at immigrants and refugees. The previous administration worked tirelessly to tell immigrants and refugees that they were not welcome in America.
“Here in New York, we know that diversity is a strength, and immigrants and refugees contribute to the vibrancy of our communities. Now is the time to reverse course, and welcome more refugees back to Buffalo and communities across our great state.”
94% of refugees coming into New York settle in Upstate communities.
Since 2002, Buffalo has benefitted from 16,000 refugees finding homes. Not only does that bode well for the city’s census numbers, it also helps to fortify our residential and commercial neighborhoods. As more small businesses pop up, areas like Grant Street and Amherst Street see the immediate economic benefits.
Culturally, Buffalo has also reaped rewards, with the appearance of small restaurants and markets, shops, and even the beloved Wes Side Bazaar. The face of the West Side has changed for the better, and many people are now hoping that a new wave of refugees can have similar positive impacts on the city’s East Side.
Senator Ryan is not alone in voicing his support for “another new day” for refugees that are seeking asylum in the US. Ryan says that he is looking to significantly increase funding for WNY resettlement organizations that help the displaced populations acclimate to their new surroundings. In recent years, 14 WNY refugee resettlement agencies have faced funding gaps, as the flow of refugees has come to a trickle. In order to build back the momentum, Ryan is looking for $5 million in funding per year, up from the $1 million that was budgeted in 2000.
It is estimated that Buffalo lost out on over 8,000 refugee admissions in the last four years.
Eva Hassett, Executive Director International Institute said, “The Biden administration will be setting a new agenda and tone for our country. As we have for the past 100 years, we look forward to working alongside federal, state, and local partners to ensure the foreign-born have access to critical services and assistance, are free to pursue opportunities for advancement, and are welcomed and celebrated in our community. Refugees have made and continue to make extraordinary contributions to our communities and data shows that refugees provide an economic boon to their communities in addition to enhancing the diversity and vibrancy of the places we call home. As New York state grapples with an anticipated $15 billion budget deficit, we encourage state lawmakers to remember the foreign born Western New Yorkers contribute nearly $630 million in taxes and control $1.4 billion in spending power each year. Now more than ever we must invest in growing a community which provides such vital support to our economy. We call on New York State to continue to renew the vital NYSESRP funding which equips resettlement agencies across the state with the capacity needed to ensure that New York is the destination of choice for immigrants and refugees.”
“If the past four years have taught us anything, it is that hateful rhetoric combined with xenophobic policies dehumanize our foreign-born friends and neighbors and put them in danger,” said Karen M. Andolina Scott, Executive Director at Journey’s End Refugee Services says. “While the federal government took every opportunity to halt immigration and to separate and incarcerate those seeking refuge, foreign-born populations once again show us how they are the backbone of our economy, continuing to work and serve as essential members of our WNY community throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We at Journey’s End welcome President Biden and his administration, who promise to work towards securing the rights of immigrants and refugees. We look forward to continuing our work with NYS officials and agencies, who recognize that our state owes its vitality to foreign-born populations. Our mission guides us to welcome our newest neighbors and to help ease their transition into their new lives. It is compulsory for all levels of our government to not only protect immigrants and refugees, but to provide the needed resources to integrate immigrants and refugees into our society as equals.”
Dr. Molly S. Short Carr, Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Family Services of Western New York said, “Jewish Family Services of Western New is looking forward to working with our partners throughout the country in rebuilding the infrastructure for refugee resettlement under the Biden administration. Western New York has a long history of welcoming refugees with open hearts and minds. Over the last four years, we have seen the decline in refugees as a loss to our communal well-being. Now, we have an opportunity to refresh and renew resettlement here in Western New York and to explore ways we can better support our refugee communities. JFS looks forward to working with our public and private partners to ensure Western New York continues to be a premiere resettlement community.”
“With the change in the Presidential Administration, Catholic Charities anticipates the ability very soon to ‘welcome the stranger’ in increased numbers, as we are called to do” said Deacon Steve Schumer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities of Buffalo. “We are ready to rebuild the infrastructure to support and reassure those who are immigrants and refugees. In fact, we are prepared to pick up where we left off four years ago. While our light never went out, few refugees who deserved to start a new life free from fear and repercussion could reach our beacon of hope. We look forward to working with New York State and all of the partners who strive to strengthen Buffalo and Western New York for – and through the efforts of – resettled immigrants and refugees.”
Lead image: Photo by Markus Spiske